Dom Joly (The Sunday Times)

Dom Joly (The Sunday Times)

Chasing shadows in Oman

Rise early, for the hour after dawn is borrowed from paradise. So says an Arab proverb – and, within 24 hours of my touchdown in Oman, I am a believer.

I’m on the shores of the Indian Ocean, an hour north of Mirbat, first staging post on my expedition into the Empty Quarter. Our “desert camp” lounges across a silken beach, and I fell in love with it the moment we arrived yesterday evening. Each of our party has a luxurious private tent complete with en suite bathroom.

In the middle is a communal space where we can loll about and smoke a nargileh, before sitting down to a candlelit meal.

The morning is the clincher, though. I rise unspeakably early for a dip in the clear blue ocean, just yards from my tent. Diving into the surf, I immediately find myself buzzed by four dolphins, keen for playtime.

At the mouth of the bay, I can see huge sea turtles being tossed around in the breakers, while along the beach hundreds of crabs busy themselves building a boulevard of miniature sand pyramids. It’s quite a swim.

I’m not sure what Wilfred Thesiger would have made of such pleasures, however. I have come to the Empty Quarter to follow Thesiger’s shadow, after reading all about the place as a boy in his travel classic, Arabian Sands. The book tells of the great adventurer’s epic journey on foot across the largest sand desert in the world, a region that spills out across the hazy borders of Oman, Yemen and Saudi, occupying a quarter of the Arabian peninsula.